'What happens if I drive my car with the handbrake up?' [Newbie Guide]

Updated Nov 08, 2022 | Same topic: Beginner's Guide

It happens to many drivers, but few are aware of the consequences.  

More new cars these days are beginning to come with electronic parking brakes, but the rest are still offered with the familiar hand-actuated version. For the technophobes out there, the latter doesn’t require a learning curve and is pretty straightforward in use. 

BMW console with electronic parking brake

Despite electronic parking brakes making an appearance, many new cars here still come with the traditional handbrake 

Engaging it is easy enough; just pull the lever while pressing the button, which will lock the rear wheels and prevent the vehicle from moving. The tough part, at least for some people, is remembering to set it down again before pressing on the accelerator to move the car. Not a few drivers have been alarmed at noticing that the car struggles to accelerate, only to realize that the handbrake lever is still up. 

Leaving the handbrake engaged while bringing the car from a standstill is a common rookie mistake, but it doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable. There’s actually plenty of incentive in remembering to disengage it after the first few mishaps. 

Disc brake exposed

The resulting damage will require your brakes to be serviced earlier than expected 

When the handbrake is pulled up, it applies tension on a cable that activates the disc pads or shoes on the rear brakes. Releasing the button then engages a pawl along a ratchet plate, holding both the lever and brakes in place. As you might have realized by now, it’s the friction exerted by the brake pads or shoes that keeps the car from moving. 

When you drag the handbrake while moving the car, the friction increases, generating heat. More heat is generated the longer and faster that the vehicle has traveled, which can result in a glaze on the brake pads. This can make them very slick and increase the effort as well as distance needed to stop the car. In more extreme cases, it can damage the wheel bearing and lead to a complete failure of the braking system. 

Driver pulling handbrake

Always be mindful of the handbrake lever's position before driving off

As mentioned, the handbrake also uses a cable to pull the rear brakes and lock the wheels. Moving the car with the handbrake still up can potentially damage the cable to the point of snapping, rendering the lever useless. On vehicles that use a foot-actuated parking brake, the principle and consequences are the same.  

Fortunately, you only need to pay attention to the dashboard, where the parking brake icon lights up to remind you that the lever is still raised. Better yet, just practice being mindful of the vehicle’s handbrake before setting off on your drive.   

Find more tips for beginner car owners at Philkotse.com.

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph Paolo Estabillo


Joseph holds a degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines Diliman and has been writing professionally since 1999. He has written episodes for CNN Philippines' motoring show Drive, and has worked on corporate projects for MG Philippines and Pilipinas Shell. Aside from being Philkotse.com’s Content Lead, he also writes content for numerous car dealerships in the U.S., spanning multiple brands such as Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Maserati, among others.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kapatilya

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